“Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
After reading Simcha Fisher’s recent review of the film Night of the Hunter, I was intrigued by the story but unsure if I wanted to take the plunge and watch what is, by all accounts, a truly creepy movie. I decided to check out the original novel first, and see if it’s really as great as people were making it out to be.
After reading the book, I’m quite glad that I didn’t watch the movie. It’s not that it wasn’t good; on the contrary, it was so good that I read the whole thing in under five hours last night. The commenters were right, though: this book gives one of the most convincing and terrifying portrayals of evil I’ve ever read.
The plot, in a nutshell: A Depression-era husband and father robs a bank out of desperation, killing two men. Before he is arrested, he hides the money and refuses to tell anyone where it is, though this means the different between life and death for him. After he is hanged, his cellmate, The Preacher, is released from prison and is determined to find the money, which he believes the man’s children can find. The Preacher, who has already gotten away with murder, haunts and terrorizes the children, especially young John.
The symbolism in this story is everywhere and striking. Evil literally never sleeps. The children are called “lambs” by both the wolves and the shepherd. And though the Preacher perfectly perverts religion, his is not the only depiction of a “Christian” in the book. (Minor spoiler alert) In the end, the one who saves the children is not the people who are overzealous in their condemnation of others and proclamation of their own virtue; rather, it is the character whose quiet faith is expressed as much in her actions as in her speech. She is the one who is able to see through the Preacher’s deception.
I found this book to be highly effective and quite satisfying in the end. There were a few scenes during which I found myself literally holding my breath, and the shadows as I left work last night seemed a little more sinister than usual. I recommend it for anyone looking for a little American gothic.